Toronto – December 24, 1943

(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters to his sister, from the front. Here’s the beginning of Kathy’s Christmas letter from Toronto, in response.)

December 24, 1943

Dear Tommy,
…..I just couldn’t wait for another letter…I had to wish you a Merry Christmas!

…..But first, I want to set your mind at ease. The Toronto Star tells us tonight that a major tragedy has been averted for British troops. The army catering corps has announced that more than ten tons of Christmas pudding will be available Saturday. They have managed to produce about seven thousand three-pound puddings in record time with makeshift supplies. I assume they will share with you Canadians…it is Christmas, after all!
…..Makeshift supplies…hmm…I wonder how that can be interpreted. The implications are a little disturbing. What, for example, will they have substituted for the raisins, if raisins were not available?
…..Never mind! Enjoy your share and remember that if you were home waiting for Mom to bake you a pudding of any description at all, you’d starve to death.

…..I, on the other hand, decided this was as good a time as any to hone my baking skills…while a good part of the population was taking cover overseas. I’m sure by the time you’re home I’ll have gotten the knack of it, but it may be just as well that you’ve missed some of my more dramatic failures. I think I’ll be able to offer you some pretty impressive Christmas shortbread cookies someday, but my mince tarts…not a resounding success. If you develop a taste for mince tarts, you’d better find yourself a wife who can be coaxed to take on that challenge.

…..Last Friday, Dad surprised us with an early Christmas gift.
…..“I’ve got three tickets to the Christmas Pantomime at Shea’s Hippodrome, ladies. Transform yourselves! We’re going out to dinner!” I think he might have hoped it would make up to us, a little, for the fact that you weren’t likely to be home this year.
…..I’d just gotten home from work and I had thought I was tired, but it turns out you are never too tired for a Christmas surprise!
…..“Oh, Fred.” Mom pretended she was peeved. “I’ll never be able to do anything with my hair on such short notice…why didn’t you tell me?” (Did I tell you that Mom has stopped insisting that I call her Pearl? I guess she realized that a rose by any other name won’t hold its petals a day longer.)
…..Mom and I jostled around upstairs getting dressed while Dad shaved at the kitchen sink in order to keep out of the line of fire, then sat with a big grin, waiting for us to repackage ourselves in suitable holiday trimmings. And when she finally made her appearance in the front hall (beating me by a full three minutes), Mom had tamed her hair and looked stylish and trim and as pretty as I’ve ever seen her.
…..“You haven’t aged a day since I met you, my Pearl,” Dad fibbed. He pulled a gold-ribboned Christmas corsage out of the ice box and pinned it to her coat. (It didn’t really need to be kept cold…the white roses were paper…but I guess it was as good a place to hide it as any, and the gesture made a good effect.) He had a sprig of holly in his buttonhole, and had somehow conjured up a brass-handled cane fit for a duke.
…..“I didn’t get a corsage for you,” he whispered to me as Mom ran back up the stairs one last time to retrieve a vagrant earring. “I wanted your mother to feel special tonight. And you’re always special, y’ know.”
…..I did know.
…..We took the streetcar downtown to Bassel’s restaurant and got a table by the big front window where we could watch the last of the holiday crowd jostling by along Yonge Street with their bags and boxes. Such a lot of people determined to find just the right thing to give to someone else…the energy is effervescent. It’s as likely to fill the Salvation Army kettles on the street corners as alcohol guilt, and the donors enjoy the giving more.
…..We preferred to walk to the theatre so the Christmas spirit could fall on us like snow flakes. The Christmas lights twinkling along the way…the drifts of Christmas music tumbling out of the doorways…the tinkle of bells from who knows where…it was magical! By the time we reached Shea’s, we were all grinning like fools.
…..And the show was wonderful! Girls and glitter and dancing and music (There can never be enough Christmas music!)…and jokes. Lots of zany jokes! Everything was red and green and silver and gold and sparkly. There was even a charming bit of ballet from The Nutcracker Suite. I think you would have liked it, Tommy. No…don’t protest…pretty girls showing their legs. How bad could it have been?
…..Going home later, the streets were quiet and a few fluffs of snow settled on us. Even Mom didn’t mind getting snowflakes in her hair…they were like gift jewellery!
And if we scrunched our eyes, we could see halos around the streetlights.

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About Wendy Bertsch

I’m a Canadian author—a pragmatic optimist with rather eclectic interests and a pervasive sense of humour. Toronto born and bred, I live by the lake with a motley array of dogs and a cat, all but myself being of unknown origin, in a comfortable old house filled with books. Over a thousand books. Books in every nook and cranny. And now, since there can never be too many books, I'm writing more. Once More, From the Beginning highlights the women in the bible. It's about time! And believe me, they see things quite differently. And in Dodging Shells, you'll meet the irrepressible Tommy, as he fights his way through Italy in World War II. You'll love Tommy. I do. Next? Well, that's a secret yet. Stay tuned... I recently initiated the fledgling Ocean Highway Books, providing editing, formatting and cover design services to authors wishing to self-publish.
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